Jeremy Werner // Illini Inquirer

Finally healthy, DE Sean Adesanya has opportunity to fill big hole on Illini defensive line

After missing last two seasons with injuries, Illini defensive end Sean Adesanya has huge opporunity to make an impact for Illini

Sean Adesanya is a familiar face around the Illinois football program. But the redshirt junior enters Year Three as an Illini lacking a down of NCAA experience.

Acutally, until Feb. 14, third-year Illinois defensive line coach Mike Phair hadn't seen the 6-foot-3, 250-pound redshirt junior defensive end participate fully in a practice.

"Since I've been here, he hasn't been able to go," Phair said. "During this last season, he was always going to scout team because he just wasn't healthy. This is the first time really getting to drill him and do all our work."

Adesanya -- a New Jersey native who came to Illinois via Eastern Arizona Junior College -- missed the 2015 season with a torn labrum. Just as his shoulder was returning to full health last spring, he suffered a torn Achilles tendon.

"Honestly, I'm not going to lie, when I tore my Achilles, I felt like I couldn't catch a break. Injury after injury," Adesnya said. "The trainers and coaches just said to keep my head up and fight through it. That's what I did."

Step number one for Adesanya is to get through the full spring healthy. So far, so good through 12 practices.

"He's showing good things," Phair said. "That's the part, him just staying healthy. I like some of the things he's doing. He's working hard. He's coming out and being coachable and he's doing good things. He's got talent."

With former teammates Dawuane Smoot and Carroll Phillips working out at the NFL Combine during the weekend and Gimel President also pursuing a pro career, Adesanya has a huge opportunity in front of him. The Illini return just one defensive end with extensive Big Ten playing experience: junior Henry McGrew, who has 12 tackles and 2.0 tackles for loss in 23 career games as a backup. Senior James Crawford received reps late last season as a defensive end but played linebacker and safety in previous seasons.

The Illini need difference-makers on the edge, or at least some reliability. Illinois signed six 2017 prospects who could play defensive end. But the Illini would feel a lot more comfortable for 2017 if Adesanya would step up.

"It's time to showcase my talent," Adesanya said. "I'm grateful to the University of Illinois for recruiting me and bringing me in. I just got to show myself to the university. I got to produce."

Adesanya certainly looks the part of a Big Ten defensive end, and he's the strongest in his position group. "He's got a good first-step get off, and he's got some strength," Phair said. "He can get his pads underneath you. When uses that and gets his pads low, he's pretty dang good.

"He's a mature kid. He takes care of business. He understands college and he's been here a little bit. I think the biggest thing with him is keeping him healthy. He understands he has to stay healthy and take care of his body."

While Adesanya has minimal collegiate reps under his belt, he had the benefit the last two seasons of learning from two defensive ends who soon will get drafted.

"That helped me a lot, especially with my speed and time to react to plays, it' helps me a lot," Adesanya said. "Especially with learning with Smoot and Carroll, that helped me so much."

Two lost seasons to injury make Adesanya an unknown heading into his third season at Illinois. But the junior said he didn't persevere this long to waste this long-awaited Big Ten opportunity.

"The process is about showing what I got, showing that I can't just come in and think it's going to be a walk in the park," Adesanya said. "I have to show myself that I really wanted it. I'm thankful for the injuries that I had because I really have to show what I'm made of and that I'm not just going to quit. No matter what's thrown at me, I'm just going to fight through it."

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